the United Colours of Africa
Goema Music of Cape Town
“If it's the end of the world,play goema.”
Goema Captains of Cape Town was a self-styled orchestral jazz band that wasinclusive, collaborative and enjoyable. Goema Captains were always calling musicians toward it. The action of creating a band is constant. It requires constant rehearsing, performing, collaborating, and doing so until the sound absolutely and completely embodies the intention of the musical cast. From their inauguration at the wondergigs, the Goema Captains did a further thirty collaborative performances in and around Cape Town including two days in the studio. This resulted in their only album, which Mac himself described as 'a befokk-da album.'
Musicians featured ... Guitar: Mac Mckenzie Piano Hilton Schilder Trumpet and accordion Alex Van Heerden Vocals Ernie Deane, Zolani Mahola Saxophone Robbie Jansen, Mark Fransman Violin Mike Rennie Drums Clement Bennie, Kurt Davids Bass Eddie Jooste, Basil Moses, Riedwaan Bolie Banjo Kaatjie Davids Choir New Orleans Choir Trombone Jannie Van Tonder Steel Drums Liz Broukhart Producer Struan Douglas ...
The Goema Captains represented a core team, the head of an arrow. The core team represented the philosophy of immaculate expansion whereby a star was to become a cluster and then to become a universe; whereby a spark of inspiration was to ignite an entire scene and pick it up from the bootlaces.
Mac McKenzie is a fantastic bandleader and the Goema Captains of Cape Town formed around him and his lifelong collaboration with Hilton Schilder and Alex Van Heerden.
Mac together with a team of brilliant Cape musicians created the 'Goema captains of Cape Town.' We began an anthemic journey into the heart of the rainbow nation as witnessed from the Cape of storms, or Tavern of the Seven Seas as this gorgeous land was once known.
Mac had ridden the tragic hustle of fame through incredible ups and downs. When I met Mac he had been cash strapped for years. But reputations change as do people. We dropped an album, the Goema Captains of Cape Town and Macs return to the maestro status began in earnest. "Change is slow but change is here." Mac Mckenzie wrote fifteen years ago on his anthem SLOW SLOW. And now finally we see this. CHANGE COMES WITH MIRACLE.
To take the message as far as the STARS you need all stars. The wife of the original bass player Riedwaan Valley made the entire band waistcoats with stars. I joked that we were the Goema Captains of the Universe.
Kaatchi Davids and his uncompromising banjo playing was almost as though he learnt it on the stage. It was a kind of musical magic that Riedwaan's wife had already educated as about when she so lovingly sewed the Goema Captains star spangled waistcoats.
From their inauguration at the wondergigs, the Goema Captains did a further thirty collaborative performances in and around Cape Town including two days in the studio. This resulted in their only album, which Mac himself described as ‘a befokk-da album.'
Ernestine Deane said after recording with the band, “These are such beautiful songs.” We hear the mist of Cape Town on 'Alibama.' We float amongst the whimsical spirit of togetherness on ‘Rosa' and take inspiration of the late summer nights on 'Goema Goema'.
After three or four years of constant rehearsing, performing, rehearsing, performing, collaborating, absolutely and completely embodied the Cape Town sound. We hear the mist on Alibama and the wind on Too Wisdom . We float amongst the whimsical spirit of togetherness on Rosa and take inspiration of the late summer nights on Goema Goema. I recall Ernestine Deane, saying "these are such beautiful songs," after the recording sessions of 'healing destination' and 'too wisdom'.
I recall the grand finale at the Cape Town stage of democracy, company gardens. That very gig, Craig Parks called me on the telephone to say Robbie Jansen needed to perform with the goema captains that afternoon. In fact it was an order. I thought Robbie was suffering from an infection. Alas he blew like the Cape Doctor of ever. (I hear with the approaching desert from the East, the Cape Doctor can change direction to become a Black Doctor!) What was that choir, dressed in panama hats with a slight of orange in the band? There was a tradition of Cape Malay expressed with such vibrance. All of the choir were heard, the soft hearts of the kind youths and the 'salt of the earth' experience of the heavy weights. This was our proudest moment in recording (even though the recording was straight up onto mini disk). When you changed the words of 'Daar kom die alibama,' to say 'daar gaan die alibama,' the foulest revolutionary injectives were most clearly expressed. Drunks who had not risen from the gutter in many moons were suddenly dancing as if Sufi's! . Our final show was March 16th 2004 and I saw rich and poor dancing together with the intensity of lovers. . The love was bright, so bright, too bright for just at that time, but perfect for now. You can imagine. This was our farewell gig. I left Cape Town after this show and the Goema Captains never played together again like this.
The Goema Captains of Cape Town
Music of the mountain: Hoerikwagga sea mountain; table mountain, lions head, doves beak, signal hill ... all are one
Music of the carnival: A natural carnival, a resurrection of the soul, a celebration for transformation.
Music of the Night choirs: A community tradition of choirs that reaches all ages and all areas in an evolving expansion of music...
Music of the Marching bands: A self styled orchestra that everybody with an instrument can join and bring joy
Music of Jazz: Built on the freedom of expression of a creole culture of a port city that inspired the improvised jazz movement of the world.
Goema is the reflexion of a creole culture. Goema is the name of the rhythm or spoken language imminating from this creole culture. The goema language itself is am amalgamation of Afrikaans, English and some Bantu words and they are all put in a rhythmical potjie kos of language that when spoken has the feel of music. The language is sometimes foolish, sometimes humurous, speaking in metaphors or taking some of the most simple situations and turning it into something to laugh about. Goema is anything and it is anywhere. For instance when the youth are dancing in a circle and someone is in the middle, they say, 'Steek uit jou bang ding,' (Stick out your scared thing) to the shy guy too inhibited to work his dance moves.
“Gangsterism has changed. They are cowards today. When we were young we used to fight with knives and use the lids of bins as shields. When we were young we used to burry the old. Now we are old and we burry the young."
Goema Captains of Cape Town
Mac, how are you going to bring everything together with the hip hop element?
How Hilton is jazz coming in?
Hilton, how is world music incorporated?
How do you feel about turntablism Hamma?
I have always liked DJ-ing, but I could never afford to do it because it was too expensive a trade. I developed that interest when I was really young so there was no way I could get money for turntables or even collecting records. I always like Ready D's style of DJ-ing, but it was never my style. It is not a style I would adopt. I have always liked the European style of DJ-ing, more slower, more composed, just simpler. My style is basic, when I scratch and perform, I like people to see the basic elements, like how to put a scratch pattern together, so I always break all my scratches down. It is more lose. It is a style people can get into easily. It is easy listening. It is not really like a wild style type scratching. I like simple things. Simple music, simple beats, anything with space. Any music that is too full I don't really get into it if there is too much stuff happening. I always like jazz because it is like the same thing as just DJ's free-styling. Everybody is doing their own thing but somehow it all comes together. I am not a jazz head to put it like that, but I could always listen to it and I can always enjoy it.
Alex Van Heerden, how did you hook up with the various musicians?
I have been playing with these guys for a very long time. Mac and Hilton for a couple of years now. And they always told me to be true to yourself and play what you are and what feels sincere. I remember Mac telling me that years ago and Hilton also. It is very much about playing what is you. That is why I fit in, we have a mutual understanding of what we are and expressing ourselves.
We are people who are from here. We can't deny that. We grew up with a language in our head and a sound in our head and an environment. Each person has their own unique environment but more or less we share common things. We have a music which is ours… What I learnt from Hilton and Mac is they play a lot of different kinds of music but they speak a lot about something called goema, which is the carnival music of Cape Town. I started playing that music with them and then I realised that I need to start looking at what I am. I am an Afrikaans speaking person and as Afrikaaners we have a kind of music built around a rhythm called vastrap. I started hearing goema music as being a very fast vastrap, because it is a carnival music. And then I realised that this music is linked to the language Afrikaans. And it has had a bad stigma attached to it because of the fuck up that we had and the split in the Afrikaans speaking people because they are actually one people. But something went wrong, so I started getting into the rhythm that reflects the language.
Each language on this planet has a rhythm that goes with it. The rhythm of Afrikaans is vastrap or goema depending on how fast you speak it. In the Cape they speak Afrikaans fast and that is why it sounds fast, it is the goema beat. Each language has its own rhythm. The Cuban Spanish play salsa. I am an accordionist as well and a trumpet player so that I can incorporate the whole sound and that is how I fit in because I am this and so are these people. We are all this. There is no possibility of us not fitting together.
The reason why we are fortunate enough to join up now is because back then when I was struggling because I have been a composer since I can remember but what made we do what I did, because I did weird things is I was always looking for resonating instances. And when myself and Hilton met up, we were always two guys doing our own thing because he could understand what I was talking about. By the time we formed this band ‘The Genuines,' the one thing that came out in me was rock music in its deviance; that appealed to me. I could easily write rock songs and carry them over to the audiences. Also at the time there was need for that with the apartheid era having to be dismantled and we came across with this hard rock and obviously we cornered the rock market with all its popularity and viability and financial logic. That is why we became famous because we played rock music, not because we played goema music, not because we played well or that we were tall or thin or short or fat. We got into that market and we were the best rock band immediately and for the two of us to bring it across, that is when myself and Hilton realised we are very similar. And we were always looking for similar people along the way and that is why I know as we sit here, Hamma, Kurt and Alex there is a similarity between these people that is going to pervade right through our lives.
The carnival music was about people being set free from slavery and painting themselves up and then carrying on like the master wouldn't have them carry on, like they were freed. That still happens in the goema troops today. I have actually gone and joined a nag-team , last year and this year just so I can connect with what I grew up with. I grew up with all those things. My father was moss a goema captain. When Hilton talks about the gangster or jail culture, what he is actually trying to say is, it is the slaves being freed. They behave extrovertly, drinking too much and rolling around in the streets and walking on the pavement where they couldn't walk, because they were freed on that day. That is the energy of the goema in Cape Town.
Kurt how do you feel connecting with all this heritage and the way that is coming out in the music?
All the youth are looking for culture nowadays. They are going to all these Eurocentric things, these name brands, labels and stuff. People see an image and try and incorporate who they are into the image. They are robbing themselves of what they actually have. Basically all the heritage is in the past, in the background. It is something real. I like to attach myself to a good cause.
People always connect to an idea. Whatever idea is cool and if other people relate to that idea they connect to the idea. Everything that is around in the area attaches itself to it. The same with hip hop. Hip hop was more an idea than anything else. It was not the music or the art or anything like that. It has all been around before hip hop. The same with jazz. The instruments and everything has been around before jazz came about. What brought jazz to life was the idea and people started connecting with it. The thing is even though we are all from different musical backgrounds, the one idea that connects us is the idea to be yourself and bring yourself to the party. So, I am cool with anything that allows people to be themselves. Other than that I don't really care what they listen to.
Mac has just said it clearly. The danger is there are powers at play out there: especially America with this cultural imperialism, wants us to forget any links to any other culture besides theirs that we might have.
It is so obvious to me. To be able to understand and speak a language that comes from a place is the most beautiful thing possible because it places you in your environment. Afrikaans is the language of the entire Cape. It developed in Cape Town and the surrounding areas, in all its dialects. This whole Boere Afrikaans thing is a stagnation and a fear and that is why they are holding onto it. They are trying to speak what is their kind of Dutch. But in reality, we need to rewrite the history of what really happened here.
If you go into any poor white home, Afrikaans speaking, you see they eat the same food as an average coloured home, and they have the same kind of rhythms in the music. There are some differences but essentially at some point the cultures were the same. That is what interests me. We need to have a renaissance where people can become proud of what they are. And that will not only involve the oppressed Afrikaans people becoming aware that they have no need to feel that there is anything wrong with their culture but also the Afrikaans people that have been on top all the time must realise that their culture is a petty bourgeois lie. They were sold by the purist ideals that came after the Anglo Boer war; that they have to try and be European. Fuck all of that actually and let's not talk about this shit anymore. It has actually got nothing to do with music.
There is a music here. The music is going to make us realise that all the other stuff we are talking about us a load of shit. There is a rhythm here that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world and it is beautiful and it is sexy and it is warrrm!
Hilton how much does the music have to do with an identity?
It is a matter of speaking the same language or a similar language. We come from different backgrounds yet we all speak the same language, if we have to communicate in jazz or whether we have to communicate in goema you will find it all boils down to one thing; that is music we like to play. Music we enjoy playing. And music that we are not trying to force down anyone's throat with vengeance. You can go anywhere in the world and play together. You don't even have to speak the same language but you can play together. I find goema is a very accessible rhythm. I did workshops in Denmark and the students there, really hectic students playing serious stuff; in three of four days they could learn a couple of goema tunes with me and at the end of the week perform it and record an album out of it. It is quite a universal language. Same as jazz is. You can go anywhere, the far corners of the earth. There are such a lot of guys who have listened to a bass player like Jaco Pastorius. You can find a guy from the Ivory Coast playing like Jaco Pastorius. It is a language that he has picked up and spoken. To me most of the music that we play comes from Africa. It doesn't matter what it is, it has got its roots here in Africa because it has been proved that the oldest man comes from here or woman for that matter. Basically all music forms are related in some way, no matter where they are because it has been taken to all corners of the earth.
We are busy putting up the cornerstone for goema as it were. In Brazil, everybody plays Brazilian music. In Cuba everybody plays Cuban music. It doesn't matter what colour they are, where their ancestors come from. That is going to happen here and it is happening. We are the small stream trickling and it is going to come flooding one day. Where the turntablist is playing goema, the guy with a jazz thing, a rock thing, an Afrikaans thing, everybody is eventually going to be a goema musician. If you talk about resonation with other people, I saw it in Germany. I don't know if you remember that night we came to play in Germany, it was winter, the snow was thick and we came into this small place called Apeldoorn. We came into the place and there was nobody to be seen because it was snowing and we felt really shit, we felt we were going to bomb. There were going to be two people in the place in the South of Germany. It was myself and you (Hilton) and Ian Herman and Gerard. And we thought we were going to die and play to an empty hall. And in come the German people. It was Oupa, Ouma, little kids and some teenagers. But we had this whole family. All the people of the place. And the hall was full. We didn't know where to start and we pedalled a little bit and then we said, ‘let's play goema.' It is the end of the world. And they all danced whole night. And we sang a bit. I can tell you a lot of beautiful things that happened to me because of playing goema.
One night I came to this place called the Republic of Hout Bay. The band that played before us was called Smoking Brass. They were playing reggae and they were popular and they had all their fans there. My father was alive. My father was playing with us. After they finished their set there was nothing we could do to follow. We played a little bit of our rock jazz songs and nobody danced and my father said, “Tonight you are bombing guys.” And we tried a bit of our soul songs and then I said, “If it is the end of the world play goema.” We stole the show!
A lot of things are happening out there for the goema music. For instance there is a bunch of Mexican cultural musicians, about twenty of them coming over in August. They are sent by the Ford Foundation. They are traveling through South Africa, and already they want to do something with the goema musicians. They don't just want to get in with the cats that walk the streets. They are seeing us… turntablists, keyboard players. It is not just your traditional marching band. For those cats to resonate around the world, it is easy. It could be the black and white minstrels in a District Six show of Taliep. That is a different energy. We are making sure that the musicians of tomorrow who play electric guitar and play saxophones and electric pianos, accordions, they have got a place to carry this thing. So, it is a little bit of a crusade. But musically it is happening because we can push the boundaries because of our technical ability and financially it is also going to be happening because it is something that makes money. Of all festivals going around I have seen the most money playing goema. And I have been around. I have played jazz, I have played rock, funk and punk and I have never made so much money or had such a good time as playing goema.
Kurt as a young composer in terms of the fact that this is a traditional music that has got a long history and it is being brought into a contemporary way. How are you approaching that?
The style of music can definitely be rekindled amongst the youth because it is something that all people can get into because they all have that in them somewhere. I enjoy playing with people who play goema music.
Mac, How is the group contemporising the music?
Firstly there is going to be no singing. It is just going to be music. There is going to be one girl singing a welcome to the people who come. It is going to be like Abdullah Ibrahim's approach, relying mostly on the other energy besides the spoken word because that can be limiting and it can also put us out there. It is a democratic exercise but I especially don't want that. Just welcome them in the song and let the music go on without the words.
Hamma how does it resonate with you?
When I am at home I usually just mess around with music. I grab anything that I can find and see if I can do something with it. I have never had a problem fusing any sounds. Music just works together, you don't really have to put a lot of effort into it to make it work. It is just sounds and everything goes. I have played pop music with old school jazz and like I have played some funk with some hip hop and I have mixed hip hop with classical music to see what I get out of it. I don't have a problem to mix it together. We are not trying to be superstars we are trying to bring music through.
Mac, what is the connection between Bossa Nova and goema? Does any music in the country have the ability to capture the consciousness of anybody in the country?
There is a kind of music like the Sophiatown slow jive, that South African sound. There is a sound like that. That you can say is South African jazz. The goema is not there yet. The goema is still a little bit provincial.
When you check the samba, the samba is in the street in its one form in the carnival vibe. When it comes to Jobim it is like a sophisticated penthouse kind of vibe. But, there is penthouse goema too. We still have to take this little trickling stream to all those places. We have the equipment and intellectual capacity, because the composers sitting here can do that. I have heard Alex do that with his trumpet, bwaaping it out there nicely penthousing the goema. We need champagne goema, romantic goema, and all that. At the moment the only music that is doing that is the Sophiatown shuffle.
Remember that play Township Boy? Remember how wild they went for the goema music. I never saw so many tostsi's dancing goema music. We are all roar-ting for the goema. We might as well bring that to bear.
There is always a start. The most important thing is the live energy.
There is live energy and there is live energy. For any music to make an impact, we need virtuosos. We have virtuosos in the mix. That is why you are going to come (to the live show) because you know, I am going to see a damn good keyboard player, I am going to see a hot trumpet player, I want to see the new drummer they are talking about, I want to see Hamma move his fingers.
Alex also plays like that, nonchalant but he is actually pulling big chips out of the story. Me, I work a bit harder to play well and that is why I know when I see virtuosos. When I see virtuosos I appreciate it because I have to work harder to play a decent solo. That is my role. My role is to spot them and see what they have to bring to the party. You can get energy by standing in Adderley Street at the end of the year and see all those people playing pluck chords, but to see someone playing a huge scale like Coltrane or Chick Corea over that, you are not going to get it, you have to come to our show.
Jan the owner of Marvel venue speaks.
It is fantastic to see everybody sitting around and discussing things and encouraging each other. And local is lekker man! And just hearing that South African jazz has got its own flavour whether it is from Cape Town or Johannesburg; there is no question. There is something about South African jazz that is fantastic. And I think jazz is one of those things that can only really be massively enjoyed live. And I think you guys are onto it when you are pushing the live thing because that is where it is at. Jazz has got feeling and it has got soul. People have to appreciate the improvisational nature of jazz as well which you are not going to appreciate by playing the same record over and over. You are not going to understand that these guys are winging it, they are pulling it out of their hats. It is not a rehearsed fully practiced thing. The only thing they know is a vague tune and they push it through and they pull everything out. The fact that we have our own flavour is wonderful.
What is the sense of style are you going to bring through. The coon carnival has a particular style of dress. This is not the coon carnival. Jazz has a particular style of dress. This is not jazz. What are you going to get across in that sense?
There is no set dress code. We prefer playing in leather and spikes but I am fifty years old now and I am going to wear a hat and a tie and I am going to look my age. And Alex is going to wear his leather and spikes and Hamma is going to wear a three quarter hopple and Kurt is going to, I don't know. The new youth are retro, they are just wearing old hippie clothes. That is wonderful. Hilton is Al Capone always has been. It would be cool to bring out the Satin clothes that we have, Klopse gear.
Where do you see it going Hamma?
I like to have it as a subject being taught in schools alongside jazz and classical music because it is a music genre that has to be taken seriously because it has got very deep roots. I would like to see it go worldwide. There would be more money for us as well.
Since I couldn't leave my kids anything I hope that the new generation at large can get this from me that I have put the pole up, one of the cornerstones, and as Hamma says, it is going to go the way that we are all picturing it. I am comfortable with that. And I am glad that my life has been a goemerisation experience.
I disagree with everybody. Ha Ha …
Up to now the goema music has an image of people wearing Satin uniforms, and staying at home listening to old moppie records; that is the danger. This music can either be seen as something ironic, or something nostalgic from the past. The fact is it doesn't have to be anything but us and our expression of ourselves. The music doesn't have to go anywhere. We just have to become ourselves. People mustn't see it as something from the past or something funny. It is who we are. As our consciousness shifts so the music will shift, as our instruments change the music will follow because we are the music. Ultimately, among all the things that it is; it is a means to an ecstatic state within the human being, shifting the human consciousness to a state of ecstasy and abandonment. That is where we want to take people. So forget about what it is or how to stylise it or describe it, let us make people ecstatic in a way that is more close to them than any other way possible.